Commentary

Disciples

 
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Sunday, April 22, 1888.

     I took W. a volume Goethe-Carlyle correspondence. [See indexical note p057.3] "This Goethe-Carlyle business seems to have been an affair of respect rather than of love. It was not beautiful to me, like Goethe's love for Schiller, like Schiller's love for Goethe."

 
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I said: "You never seem to enter into such literary companionships." "No—I do not: they are hardly possible to me: I do not seek them. [See indexical note p058.1] I do not value literature as a profession. I feel about literature what Grant did about war. He hated war. I hate literature. I am not a literary West Pointer: I do not love a literary man as a literary man, as a minister of a pulpit loves other ministers because they are ministers: it is a means to an end, that is all there is to it: I never attribute any other significance to it. Even Goethe and Schiller, exalted men, both, very, very, were a little touched by the professional consciousness." [See indexical note p058.2] "Then you do not accept the notion of art for art's sake?" "Not a bit of it—that would be absurd on the face: the phrase seems to me to mean nothing. [See indexical note p058.3] Take Tolstoy: there are things about him that do not attract me—some that are even offensive—his asceticism, for instance—and yet Tolstoy comes to about the right amount: he counts up to a high figure." [See indexical note p058.4] Referred to Kennedy. "He is one of my most ardent—I often say, granitic—admirers. Indeed, he out-Buckes Bucke." To Tucker: "He has thumped me some for my emperor piece but is still my friend as I am still his friend: I don't think a fall or two taken out of a fellow hurts him in the long run. [See indexical note p058.5] Tucker did brave things for Leaves of Grass when brave things were rare. I couldn't forget that." To O'Connor: "He, too, fell afoul of me for my emperor piece. Why, that piece almost threatens to create a split in the church! [See indexical note p058.6] William is quite as radical as Tucker though much less interested in political study—is more fond of fooling with old books, ancient lores—is himself an Elizabethan student of almost miraculous erudition. I stand in awe before William." Rhys once said to W. in reply to W.'s question: "William Morris always mentioned you kindly, genially, in fine friendly fashion, admiringly, with full acceptance." [See indexical note p058.7] Spoke of Nihilism in Russia. "That seems about the only thing left to a Russian. Revolution may be the only conservatism."
 
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     W. said to a visitor in my hearing: "The American people wash too much." "See," said the visitor: What did I tell you? His gospel is a gospel of dirt." "What did you say to that?" asked W. [See indexical note p059.1] "I only said you were misunderstood—that what you meant was that the American people did not sufficiently honor the trades, the physical occupations." "Of course, and wasn't that obvious?" "Not to your vistor." "I suppose not. But what do such visitors come for anyhow? To be confirmed in their prejudices. I think our people are getting entirely too decent. They like nice white hands, men and women. They are too much disturbed by dirt. They need the open air, coarse work—physical tasks: something to do away from the washstand and the bathtub. God knows, I'm not opposed to clean hands. But clean hands, too, may be a disgrace. It was the disgraceful clean hands I had in mind."

     W.'s friends often rally him about his aristocracy. [See indexical note p059.2] W. says for himself: "I appeal to no one: I look in all men for the heroic quality I find in Caesar, Carlyle, Emerson: yes indeed—find it, too, it is so surely present. If that is aristocracy then I am an aristocrat."

     I spoke of Lincoln—of the Nicolay-Hay biography. W. said: "That reminds me." Reaching forward to the table and pulling a letter out from under a block— "Here's a letter from John Hay to me written long ago—twelve years ago. [See indexical note p059.3] I laid it aside for you. It illustrates the friendly basis upon which our acquaintance rests. When Hay was with Lincoln I used to see a great deal of him. He has been loyal—has always watched my work, has inevitably appeared at the right time with his applause. Here is the letter. [See indexical note p059.4] It is mighty decent of John to talk out in meeting as he has—to avow his faith. But read the letter." W. had written some memoranda on the letter, which was without an envelope. "July 25, '76, Letter from John Hay (Custer poem slips and paper sent him July 25)."

 
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Century Club, 109 East 15th St.,

[New York] July 22.


Dear Mr. Whitman,

      [See indexical note p060.1] I thank you heartily for my share in your Custer poem, which I have just read. It is splendidly strong and sustained and full of a noble motive. I am especially glad to learn, in such an authoritative way, of your health and vigor.

     I wish you would take the trouble to let me know when your volume of collected works is to be published and where I can subscribe for it. I have heard that it was to be published by subscription, but have not heard any further details.

     My address is now 506 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio; and I would be very much obliged if you would spend a moment in letting me know how to get an early copy of the book for which many are looking.


Yours faithfully,


John Hay.

      [See indexical note p060.2] "There's no use talking," said W., after I had finished reading the letter, "I no doubt deserved my enemies but I don't believe I deserved my friends."


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